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Performance anxiety is not genre-specific. Many of us who were trained in traditional conservatory-type schools tend to think that performance anxiety is a problem primarily experienced by high-level classical musicians. This is categorically untrue. Studies have shown that musicians of all stripes experience anxiety and search for ways to cope with it. Your rock band, jazz band, recorder ensemble, a capella choir, and concert choir kids are all in the same boat and all need your support.


Expectations matter. We always want our students to perform at their best; we want to encourage them and support them and bring out the best in them. Just remember that students who are expected to perform at a high level have been shown to have greater anxiety than those not burdened by those expectations. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place! Simple awareness of this fact for teachers may help them to ease the pressure on and support the performance endeavors and anxious experiences of their highest-performing students.


Boys are girls do not always respond in the same way. Research has shown that females are more consistent and predictable in their response to performance situations. Typically, they worry about impending performances well in advance of them and report greater anxiety and increased physiological response prior to them. However, this does not mean that males are immune. They simply respond differently. In one study of young musicians, many boys reported minimal anticipatory anxiety and maintained normal heart rates even in the minutes before they were about to perform for a large audience. However, they displayed a variety of anxious behaviors (e.g., fidgeting) and, when it actually was their turn to go onstage, had skyrocketing heart rates.


(It is


interesting to note that the boys who did not display anxious behaviors, but rather stayed completely still, had high heart rates earlier on and ultimately did not perform as well as their fidgeting counterparts.) What does this tell us? While girls may stress about impending performances well in advance, it is less common for boys to ruminate about them, and possibly more detrimental for those who do.


Perhaps fidgeting is a coping


mechanism to keep the focus off the impending situation. Ultimately, the anxiety still kicks in, to greater and lesser extents, whether students think it is going to or not. It is important for teachers to be aware of this disparity lest they think it is only the girls who need support. It is not.


Middle school is particularly challenging. This is true in every imaginable way, but particularly with regard to performing. We need to remind ourselves of the high level of self-consciousness and vulnerability children experience in this period of development. To put oneself out there, on display, in a performance is a brave endeavor. It should be encouraged and lauded.


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Musical performance can be a wonderful part of student musicians’ lives – bringing the fruit of many hours of practice, effort, and heartfelt musical expression to an audience.


And while


anxiety may be a common experience, it does not need to be the overriding emotion. Talk to your students; normalize the experience and share your thoughts and expertise with them. The more we can learn and share with the next generation, the better prepared they will be to face performance challenges and to successfully and happily bring their musical offerings to the world for many years to come.


Selected References


Boucher, H. & Ryan, C. (2011). Performance stress and the very young musician. Journal of Research in Music Education 58, 329-345.


Fehm, L. & Schmidt, K. (2006). Performance anxiety in gifted adolescent musicians. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 20, 98-109.


Fishbein, M., Middlestadt, S. E., Ottati, V., Straus, S., & Ellis, A. (1988). Medical problems among ICSOM musicians: Overview of a national sur- vey. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 3 (1), 1-8.


Kenny, D. T. & Osborne, M. S. (2006). Music Perform- ance Anxiety: New


Insights from Young Musicians. Advances in Cognitive Psychology 2, 103-112.


LeBlanc, A. (1994). A theory of music performance anxiety. The Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning 5 (4), 60-67.


LeBlanc, A., Jin, Y. C., Obert, M. & Siivola, C. (1997). Effect of audience on music performance anxiety. Journal of Research in Music Education 45, 480-496.


Maroon, M. T. (2003). Potential contributors to per- formance anxiety among middle school stu- dents performing at solo and ensemble contest. Dissertation Abstracts International 64 (2A), 437.


Osborne, M. & Kenny, D. (2008). The role of sensitiz- ing experiences in the experience of music per- formance anxiety in adolescent musicians. Psychology of Music, 36, 447-462.


Osborne, M. S. & Kenny, D. T. (2005). Development and validation of a music performance anxiety inventory for gifted adolescent musicians. Anxiety Disorders, 19, 725-751.


Osborne, M. S., Kenny, D. T. & Holsomback, R. (2005). Assessment of Music Performance Anxiety in Late Childhood: A Validation Study of the Music Performance Anxiety Inventory for Adolescents (MPAI-A). International Journal of Stress Management, 12, 312-330.


Papageorgi, I. (2006). Understanding performance anxiety in the adolescent musician: Approaches to instrumental learning and performance. In M. Baroni, A. R. Ad- dessi, & M. Costa (Eds). Proceedings from the 9th


International Conference on Music Percep- tion and Cognition, Universita di Bologna, Bologna, Italy.


Rae, G. & McCambridge, K. (2004). Correlates of Per- October/November 2015


formance Anxiety in Practical Music Exams. Psychology of Music 32, 432-439.


Rothlisberger, D. J. (1992). Effects of video modeling prepa- ration on student instrumental audition performance achievement and performance anxiety. Dissertation Abstracts International 53, 2287A-2288A.


Ryan, C. A. (2013, March). The Role of Parents in Young Musicians’ Experience of Music Performance Anxiety. Paper presented at the International Symposium for Research in Music Behavior, Seattle, WA.


Ryan, C. A. (2015, March). The Experience of Performance Anxiety in Young Contemporary Musicians, Talla- hassee, FL.


Ryan, C. A. (2006). Experience of Musical Performance Anxiety in Elementary School Children. Inter- national Journal of Stress Management 12, 331-342.


Ryan, C. A. (2004). Gender di fferences in children’s ex- perience of musical performance anxiety. Psy- chology of Music 32, 89-103.


Ryan, C. A. (1999). Musical performance anxiety : Are junior high band students affected? Opus 41 (1), 8-9.


Ryan, C. A. (1998). Exploring musical performance anx- iety in children. Medical Problem of Performing Artists, 13 (3), 83-88.


Ryan, C. A., Andrews, N., & Aharonian, M. (2011, Feb- ruary). Performance Anxiety and Post-Secondary Plans of High School Musicians. Paper presented at the International Symposium for Research in Music Behavior, Barcelona, Spain.


Ryan, C. A. & Andrews, N. (2009). An investigation into the choral singer’s experience of music performance anxiety. Journal of Research in Music Education, 57, 108-126.


Ryan, C. A., Boucher, H., & Ryan, G. (2009, February). The Role of Teachers in Children’s Experience of Musical Performance Anxiety. Paper presented at the International Symposium for Research in Music Behavior, St. Augustine, FL.


Salmon, P. G. (1990). A psychological perspective on musical performance anxiety: a review of the literature. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 5, 2–11.


Charlene Ryan, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Music Education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. She has published extensively on the performance experiences of young musicians, with a particular focus on the development and experience of performance anxiety in children and youth.


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